“Furthest, fairest things, stars, free of our humbug,
each his own, the longer known the more alone,
wrapt in emphatic fire roaring out to a black flue.”
In flitting reveries I sometimes think my favorite poet is Basil Bunting, the Northumbrian who published his masterwork, Briggflatts, at age 66, written while he worked as a journalist in Newcastle. Then I remember Donne, Hopkins and Eliot, and return to my senses, briefly. When I read Bunting I know poetry can’t get better, more concise and musical, with words pinned to things like beetles in a drawer. Poetry is seldom so interesting and so there, on the page and in the ear.
Earlier this year, Bloodaxe Books published a deluxe edition of Briggflatts including a CD with an audio recording of Bunting reading the poem in 1967 and a DVD of Peter Bell’s 1982 film about the poet. Go here for more information about the new edition and for links to audio and video recordings of Bunting reading Briggflatts.
I lusted after such an indulgence but frugality preserved my budget. Out of nowhere – rather, out of the UK – a reader wrote me on Sunday to say he wants to send me the new Briggflatts with all the trimmings. Sometimes all one can say is “thank you.” My generous reader writes:
“I'll be going home to Elgin at Christmas (Johnson and Boswell passed through in 1775, Borges in 1965). Before the drive north from Edinburgh I hope to make an excursion south to Briggflatts, Lindisfarne, and perhaps Duns too.”
Fortunate man -- itinerary as pilgrimage.There’s more history in those two sentences than in the textbooks. These lines from Section V of Briggflatts follow the lines quoted at the top of this post:
“Each spark trills on a tone beyond chronological compass,
yet in a sextant's bubble present and firm
places a surveyor's stone or steadies a tiller.
Then is Now. The star you steer by is gone,
its tremulous thread spun in the hurricane
spider floss on my cheek; light from the zenith
spun when the slowworm lay in her lap
fifty years ago.”